Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Glimmer of Hope?

At a time where most economic news is not just bad, but VERY bad, I got an email from our budget office yesterday that gave a faint glimmer of hope.

When we finalized our budget for the year, we projected 4% declines in sales tax each of the first four months, and 2% declines each of the final eight months. Needless to say, that's a pretty conservative set of assumptions, and led to a tough budget. But being disciplined and realistic was necessary. How have things played out since?

In January, sales tax was off 3.28%--not good, but at least better than our four percent projection.

In February (reflecting the beginning of the holiday season--November sales), it was off 6.2%! Very scary. If that were to continue (along with other revenues that are declining), we will need to make major mid-year cuts

So we've been waiting anxiously for our March numbers. March reflects December sales--which because of the holidays, is our largest month. (Up to 33%, or several million dollars more, than the typical months). Another 6% hit or more would be devastating to our assumptions.

Well, the number came in yesterday . . . . . . and it was $6,946,346. This represented a 2.65% reduction from 2008. A decline, but a nice directional turnaround from February, and a healthy amount above our projection. And cumulatively, after three months, we remain just ahead of our projected 4% decline. (Although again, other sources of revenue remain off in that time).

While we can not spend dollars assuming anything but the most convervative scenarios, let's hope that this blip in the right direction was not an anomaly, but the beginning of a trend.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Follow-up on Public Safety

We had a long discussion today on public safety, and the recent, horrific murder of Esme Kenney. While it does not appear that the County was directly involved, all of us in government have a responsibility to get to the bottom of it, and ensure that this never happens again in our community, and that our citizens--and children in particular--are safe.

A couple steps we will be taking:

1. Prosecutor Joe Deters and I talked, and in addition to prosecuting the case, his office will be conducting an analaysis of each stage the alleged defendant took in the criminal justice process. This will examine which and when critical mistakes were made to allow such a dangerous person to be on the street. We will then work to ensure such mistakes can and do not happen again.

2. Todd Portune is working on a letter that will push our state leaders to require a far more stringent chain of custody requirement for dangerous offenders such as this, so they do not fall through the cracks.

3. City Council has drafted a letter to the Governor asking that the VOA Pogue Center be shut down. From what we know so far, I agree with them. I understand the Enquirer's caution not to react hastily or short-sightedly. And generally, I'd rather have predators such as this monitored in a well-run facility rather than roaming the streets if/when they have completed their sentence. (Although I think we should have NO facilities "importing" offenders from outside the County, and have previously made that clear).

But some mistakes are so egregious, so colossal, display such bad judgment, and carry such horrific consequences, that there must be true accountability. In my book, when the consequences are clearly so potentially dangerous, failing to release someone who had this egregious history and high-risk potential in a way that guarantees a smooth and safe handoff is one of those mistakes. Just like some acts are "fireable" offenses, the apparent failure here is the same. And imposing real accountability in this case will send a loud and clear message to other such facilities that breakdowns such as this are beyond the pale. Such accountability may be the best way to ensure a mistake like this never happens again.

4. Whether or not they were directly involved, all governments in the corrections/custody business must ensure that they have a system that guarantees that when a dangerous predator such as this is in their custody, they will never release them, knowingly (of course) or even unintentionally. It's no secret that after the failure of our Comprehensive Safety Plan, the Sheriff must unfortunately conduct "stationhouse releases"--which he has had to do at various times over the years. We must ensure that when the Sheriff does release offenders through this process, there is a risk assessment done, and an examination of their criminal history, before release (as opposed to just looking at the most recent criminal charge, which can conceal a far more dangerous background and potential). We must apply the same rigorous release standards across the board (to government and non-profit facilities alike).

5. Finally, a story over the weekend highlighted the shortage of electronic monitoring units in our county system. These EMUs can play a very positive role in relieving jail overcrowding, and reduce the number of releases. We will look to use stimulus dollars to both purchase new EMU units, and to pay staff sufficient to monitor and manage those new units. I have also asked several councilmembers to have the City consider doing the same.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Heart-Wrenching Tragedy; A Massive Breakdown

The brutal and horrific murder over the weekend of Esme Kenney as she jogged in her own neighborhood has made all of us sick and deeply sad since we heard the news. Our prayers go out to her family, friends and classmates as they all grieve and come to grips with this terrible event. I know parents across our community are especially unnerved by this horrible incident, as am I.

The family has asked that people make a donation in Esme’s name to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at Also, anyone with information about the case is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 513-352-3040.

While the accused killer is innocent until proven guilty in the court of law, if it turns out that he did do what he is charged with, it will represent a massive breakdown in a system that is supposed to protect citizens, and in children in particular, from predators, but clearly failed to do so.

How a man with his record of being an aggressive predator (and killer) was allowed to get out of the state system only six months after being convicted of soliciting and exposing himself to a 13-year old (in 1997), and thereafter to slip through the cracks of the parole/rehabilitation system that is supposed to monitor predators such as him, is something that must be investigated, understood and responded to immediately.

Even with the overcrowded County jail, our County court and criminal justice system had the good sense to keep him locked up for the entire pre-trial period for his 2007 offense. They clearly knew he was an imminent danger who should not be allowed in the community. Why, after the County handed him off to the state to serve his felony sentence, the "system" and all the money invested in it couldn't figure out that this person was a ticking time bomb, and treat him accordingly, is incomprehensible.

Every stage of this predator's journey through the courts, jails, parole and "rehabilitation" process should be scrutinized to see how the "system" failed, and how it must be immediately fixed.
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